A Simple Plan ★★★★★

A Simple Plan belongs to what might be my favorite subgenre - the "regular people get caught up in a crime that keeps getting worse and worse and also it's snowing" movie. But the artistry brought to the table elevates it beyond any categorization anyone could come up with for it.

The story in less capable, humane hands could have easily fallen onto the wrong side of the nihilism/tragedy divide, but the heartbreaking reality of the characters and their situation keeps that from even being a concern. The movie does what the best noir stories often do, and makes you feel sympathy for people doing terrible things. Not as some kind of trick, but because they're all human, making escalatingly bad choices for escalatingly terrible reasons.

Sam Raimi's eye is impeccable, towards everything from the economic grind on these characters throughout their lives, to the myriad tiny interrogations they have to go through to put their "simple plan" into action, to two brothers just sharing stories from their childhoods. And unlike a lot of thrillers like this, none of the characters have to behave particularly stupidly in order for the plot to work - Bill Paxton in particular is perfect as a guy who's not a criminal mastermind by any stretch but smart enough to know how not to appear suspicious, while Billy Bob Thornton's not-quite-right Jacob is just smart enough to know what he's missing out on from life (side note on Thornton: He's a genius. He's almost unspeakably heartbreaking in this, but there's not a single ounce of sentimentality or maudlin affect in his performance - it's a work of perfection).

You might think Raimi would restrain his Grand Guignol instincts for a character-based drama/thriller like this, and you'd be right for the most part. But he's not afraid to let them fly at just the right time and for maximum impact, so that images like a dead pilot's head being picked away by birds, or an angry housewife getting blown across the room by a shotgun lodge into your brain and stay there (just like they do for the characters in the movie).

Belongs in the conversation about the best movies of the 90s - maybe of all time.

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